A time when results mean nothing and you remember just how many players we have on our books. It seems that these meaningless games, played in at least three different continents, are just used as a shop window to loan out our aging academy graduates. At least that’s what they are normally used for, refreshingly, not so this year. The teams Sarri has sent out are not a bunch of names only those playing Football Manager would recognize.
Instead, players I expect to be in our match day squads are on the pitch, using the game time to get to grips with the new boss’s philosophy. The fact our new signing, Jorginho, has played majority of the games is a statement of intent that these matches are not just press tours to foreign audiences. A clear strategy and tactic can be seen from the way we have played and I have to say, it looks brilliant. It also poses some very interesting questions. Sarri is almost the antithesis to Conte, a very clear shift in the way we play from pragmatic possession to fast one touch football. It also suggests that certain players will be worried about their futures under the new boss and some may find themselves cast out entirely.
Which brings us to the hurriedly closing transfer window, with just two weeks to go before it slams shut some big decisions need to be made and fast. We seem to have clear targets in Higuain, Rugini and most recently Christian Pulasic but what we don’t have is someone to replace want-away Courtois and we cannot go into this season without a top goalkeeper. I understand that the club do not want to let him walkaway for free next season but he simply cannot be allowed to leave without a replacement having signed. Who that might be, is another thing entirely. Honestly, I think Joe Hart is the most obvious answer. Proven at Premier League level and at his best without doubt one of the top shot stoppers in the world, all he needs is some confidence. Alternatives could be Jack Butland, now playing in the Championship with Stoke but the asking price of £30 mil seems excessive, Jordan Pickford would be top choice but the England number 1 has only just joined Everton and would require a world record bid to part ways; leaving us with few real choices.
Beyond the goal-keeping crisis, I would say that we are looking good, so long as any departure is remedied with an arrival. For example, should Willain leave then Pulasic to come in, Morata out, Higuain in and so forth. Real Madrid have supposedly cooled their interest in Hazard and I’m quietly confident that should he not leave in this window then he will sign a new deal, making him captain would no doubt be a shrewd move to further bond the club to the player. We also have the benefit of picking and choosing from the army of loanees to bolster the squad with the obvious addition of Loftus Cheek back into the side. Tammy Abraham as another that could possibly play his way into contention, but with Giroud and Morata still at the club, I feel a loan would be better to further his development.
The Perth friendly provided a good look at many of the players hoping to impress the new boss and work their way in from the fringes. Notably, Ross Barkley has been playing with the speed and power that had many tipping him for greatness a few seasons ago. Should he continue to play in the same vein it will be like having a new player. Others to have impressed in Sarri’s first game were the youngster Calum Hudson-Odoi who, quite frankly, will haunt the nightmares of Perth’s right back. He has electric feet and a good final ball, one for the future and most likely, a few cup games.
Pedro is the only player to have found the net in the two games we have played so far and looks very comfortable with the new system that is remarkably similar to the one he thrived on with Barcelona. Morata had a night to forget in Australia but was noticeably better against Inter and could yet prove his worth at the club should he still be a Blue after the window. I hope he stays. I think he is a world-class talent and has what it takes to thrive under the new boss.
Higuin is a class act, but one on his way out and has never played in anything like Premier League conditions. Frankly, I don’t think he can play on a wet Tuesday night in Burnley.
Next up is Arsenal in Dublin and I think this will be the first real test of the Sarri era.
The Gunners have almost a full squad at their disposal and recently thrashed PSG. A fearsome frontline of Lacazette and Aubameyang will be a stern challenge for our defense and provide clues as to where we need to strengthen. I think a draw would be a credible result against a side that strongly resembles the one we will see in the Premier League.
Needless to say, we are in for an interesting next ten days…